House and Senate Democrats agree on a series of reforms to protect access to abortions and protect Bay State providers from tightening restrictions elsewhere, and they may have to set aside any differences to avoid a potential veto.
The Senate on Monday introduced a bill (S 2996) that would implement a range of legal protections and licenses for Massachusetts professionals who provide gender-affirming reproductive care, prohibit insurers from splitting abortion costs with patients and make emergency contraceptives more widely available. .
Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the nation’s right to abortion, senators will vote Wednesday on a new version of the standalone legislation that cleared the House with a 136-17 vote. less than a week after the judges rendered their decision.
Some provisions of the bill passing through the Legislature, including prohibiting the administration from cooperating with out-of-state extradition attempts regarding abortion and other lawful services in Massachusetts, appear already in an executive order that Republican Gov. Charlie Baker issued just hours after the court ruling.
But Sen. Cindy Friedman, an Arlington Democrat who introduced the new bill in the Senate, said the legislation is “much, much bigger” than Baker’s order and would keep protections in place permanently. .
“It’s a lot more inclusive than the governor, who has some things he can control and some things he can’t,” Friedman said in an interview. “That’s why it’s so important.”
The bill being debated in the Senate on Wednesday would protect against out-of-state lawsuits aimed at punishing abortions and other legal health care services in Massachusetts, offering those protections to both health care providers Bay State and the patients who travel here.
It would also direct the Department of Public Health to issue a permanent order allowing any licensed pharmacist to dispense emergency contraceptives, to require health insurance plans to cover abortions without copays, deductibles, or coinsurance, and to allow providers to make their home address private.
However, the version Friedman tabled does not include two other sections that were in the bill the House approved late last month: It would not make emergency contraceptives such as Plan B available in vending machines, and it would not extend when abortions were allowed after 24 years. weeks of pregnancy.
Friedman said senators “didn’t really have time” to consider the impacts of allowing vending machines to dispense emergency contraceptives as they scrambled to bill Baker before the end of official activities on July 31 for the mandate.
She cited a similar concern about House-approved language that would allow abortions after 24 weeks in cases of “serious” fetal abnormalities.
“I’ve heard from my colleagues and I’ve heard from outside the building that people get concerned when you put a word like ‘serious’ without a clear definition, what are you talking about?” Friedman said. “Does that open a wider door than people are comfortable with? I respect that, and I think we have to – again, it’s a very, very short time frame, and right now what I see as the absolute critical element of that is to make sure that our providers are protected and that women who come here for abortions are protected.”
Current state law limits abortions after 24 weeks only to situations in which a physician has determined that there is a “fatal fetal abnormality,” that the fetus is “incompatible with prolonged life outside the womb.” or that an abortion is necessary “to preserve the physical or mental health of the patient”.
Lawmakers adopted some of that language on Baker’s veto in a 2020 law known as the ROE Act. At the time, Baker said he supported parts of the bill making abortions available if the fetus did not survive after birth, but opposed other parts “that expand the availability of full-term abortions.” “.
Friedman said this precedent made him believe that Baker would veto the current bill that is going through the Legislature if it landed on his desk with language allowing abortions after 24 weeks in cases of fetal abnormalities.” serious”.
“The governor was very clear, he made it very clear, that ‘tough’ – that language would cause him to veto it,” Friedman said.
Friedman stressed that she wants lawmakers to revisit the topic, saying she’s concerned that some providers don’t always offer abortions in cases where a fetus is incompatible with life outside the womb. But the tight deadline to get a new law on the books narrowed its reach.
“It’s not that the other pieces aren’t incredibly important,” she said. “It’s just that if I have little time, I will advocate first and foremost for (language) protection.”
Following Senate passage expected this week, legislative leaders could appoint a conference committee to craft a final version of the bill. This group will face pressure to work quickly and close the gaps between branches before the end of the month.
“It’s clear to me that the House and the Senate care very, very deeply about this issue. Both have the same goal of protecting women. I think that’s clear,” Friedman said. “I think when you come to a conversation where you’re both from the same place, you’ll be able to work through the differences.”
“That doesn’t mean we’re never going to make them,” she added. “That doesn’t mean we’re against any of this. I don’t believe the Senate is against any of this. It’s just the timing that’s difficult because we’re so late into formal sessions and we have a the administration which has been quite clear about their destination.”
The Senate had already passed a similar but smaller-scale measure creating legal shields and access to emergency contraceptives as part of its fiscal year 2023 budget bill, when the court seemed set to rule. cancel Roe vs. Wade but hadn’t officially done so yet.
Lawmakers continue to negotiate a final budget 11 days into FY23, and it looks like the eventual compromise on the spending bill won’t include Senate language on reproductive care and gender affirming .
“We’ll probably pursue it in a stand-alone bill now,” Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Michael Rodrigues, who serves as his house’s budget chief, said Monday. “That would be the path of least resistance to get it to the governor’s office.”
Sam Doran contributed reporting.